Ryan Adams of Better Letter

When we think of American graffiti (the artwork, not the 1973  movie), we tend to associate its origin with the 1970’s and 1980’s. But did you know that the first known modern graffiti writer was in 1967? Living in Philadelphia, a man who went by Cornbread started tagging city walls to get the attention from a girl.

Fast forward to the 1980’s and we started to see graffiti, both lettering and artwork to be considered worthy of being featured in galleries. We’ve seen artists like Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Keith Haring become household names for the graffiti movement, but now with the growth of commercial spaces and buildings being used as blank canvases, artists from all walks of life and styles are being given more of a voice to make artwork, not just a creation, but a public statement.

Ryan Adams, an artist from Portland, Maine was incredibly influenced by the subway artwork of NYC as you’ll soon hear, and he took his love of art and that movement, and brought it to buildings across Maine and New England. In the process he developed his own style of large scale work called his “Gems” collection, which we at Dirigo Collective are fortunate enough to have one of his creations in our office.


Below is a list of all the different references and influences that Ryan named over the course of the show. The are listed in the order they were named.

Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant – the book that inspired Ryan at a young age.

Duster Lizzie Car by Martha Cooper

Run the Jewels

Binga’s Wingas

Matt Moore – Graphic designer and close friend of Ryan

Branded Arts – Mural company that hired Ryan to do the Samsung mural in Boston

Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland, Maine

Good Fire Brewing

Short Throw Brewing – Ryan currently does all can art for Short Throw

Music Inspirations


Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book album

Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy


Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes


Ryan Adams 0:02
I worked like I was you know, thrown into a room with architects, designers, working on like, you know, they were figuring out the build outs and here I am this like little graffiti kid that’s just uhhhh but it was once again like the Curiosity not knowing how this works and like the challenge like okay cool like I’m here um, this is this is interesting Let me try it out. And it was just, I haven’t stopped since.

Intro by Kevin Oates 0:30
from dirigo collective This is renegades and Mavericks, sharing the stories of people interrupting the status quo and breaking new ground in their field.

Kevin Oates 0:47
Hey, welcome back to another episode of Renegades and Mavericks. I’m Kevin Oates. So when we think of American Graffiti, the artwork, not the 1973 movie, we tend to associate its origin with the 1970s and 1980s but did you know that the first known modern graffiti writer was in 1967. Living in Philadelphia, a man who went by Cornbread started tagging city walls just to get attention of a girl. Fast forward to the 1980s and we started to see graffiti both lettering and artwork be considered worthy of being featured in galleries. We’ve seen artists like Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Keith Haring become the household names for the graffiti movement. But now with the growth of commercial spaces and buildings being used as blank canvases, artists from all walks of life and styles are being given more of a voice to make artwork not just a creation, but a public statement. Ryan Adams, an artist from Portland, Maine, was incredibly influenced by the subway artwork of New York City as you’ll soon hear, he took his love of art and that movement and brought it to buildings across Maine and New England. And in the process, he developed his own style large scale work called his gems collection, which we at Dirigo Collective are fortunate enough to have one of his creations in our own office. There’s a lot of struggles with being an artist, let alone While working another job and being a husband and a father. Ryan shows us all how it’s done. While never losing the passion for creating art. This is Ryan Adams and he is a maverick.

So take us back to your foundation of being an artist as a kid. I mean, why don’t you just tell us your story? I’m really curious about it.

Ryan Adams 2:20
yeah, no, for sure. Um, well, I’m a Mainer. I’m from Portland. And like I, as a kid, I just drew like, I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t drawing something. My mom used to tell me that I’d have everything laid out in the living room. And I would just draw the cartoons I was watching. I would draw the comic books that I was reading, I would just like reproduce things and try my best to get things right as a little kid. And yeah, I had like, I’ve been asked the question before, like, when did it start? And I’m like, I have no idea. You know, like, I know, there was a real pivotal moment when I was about 11, I think 10 or 11 I had an after school teacher that was from from New York. And she was like younger at the time. And she gave me a copy of Subway Art, which is a book by Henry shell font, and Martha Cooper, and they documented the 70s and 80s New York City subway graffiti movement. And I don’t know what it was, but it was just like, I got it and it was just like mind blowing. I, I just I remember just being like, what is this? How did they like so many questions? And that was a real turning point. Because from there, I just kind of got obsessed with just graffiti and lettering and mostly graffiti at that age. You know, you’re young and that that stuck for a long time. But yeah, that was kind of like where, I guess the obsession with with lettering and, and creating and drawing kind of came from like I guess it’s kind of always been there, but fostered by that, like, I guess curiosity and graffiti

Kevin Oates 4:06
in that book like So was there I know you said, you don’t know what it was about the book, but were there certain pieces in that book that to you were like that, that I want to do that

Ryan Adams 4:14
100% there’s, there’s pieces in that book that I could probably draw from memory because I saw them and I would just like, stare at them so hard and I just, yeah, yeah, there were definitely things that there was there’s one in particular I’m thinking as if there’s you know, any any nerds out there listening know what I’m talking about. It’s the Duster Lizzie car. And they’re like simple block letters at an angle covering an entire subway train. And it has like a almost chrome effect fade in it, but everything was just so perfectly laid out. I was like how do you do this? And under these conditions make it this perfect. And I would just like stare at it and yeah yeah, there’s definitely pieces that I still think about To this day, I guess.

Kevin Oates 5:05
And have you ever tried to recreate them yourself? Ever?

Ryan Adams 5:08
You know what I have used that kind of Chrome effect actually did. There was um, there’s a group called run the jewels, like a hip hop group. And they did a show here. Maybe like three years ago, and my buddy is friends with Killer Mike from Run the Jewels and we did a Run the Jewels in that style. So it was kind of a nod to that Duster Lizzie car. And yeah, that was when they were here. And it was it was pretty cool. It’s pretty cool. Actually, they they posted it. And I was like, yeah, that’s all it Yes. So yeah, no, we’ve recreated it for that.

Kevin Oates 5:46
Childhood version of you got into art found this book started the journey started making more really into graffiti.

Ryan Adams 5:51

Kevin Oates 5:52
When did that transition from that to art school?

Ryan Adams 5:55
Oh, yeah. So I was always so I guess through high school. I took classes on the weekend at Mecca. And, you know, it was still just kind of drawing and kind of into graffiti, but kind of not the high school I went to, they didn’t really push the arts at all. They were like, Hey, listen, you know, like, we’re preparing you for Business School, you know, or something, something along those lines. And so I kind of I kind of had a few years there through high school where I wasn’t doing as much. And then I ended up going away to school for a clinical psych degree actually. So I had I still just was kind of nowhere near kind of putting art in the forefront of my life. And you know, I moved to Boston and there you know, there was so much more graffiti so much more going on in the city that it just like, I don’t know, I just kind of like turned towards that. The psych degree didn’t really hold too much of my attention. My so I was just Yeah, I just got kind of thrown into that world. And I ended up coming back home. I was still just painting graffiti. You know, I was just doing, doing a good amount of that. And what ended up happening was actually a really strange story. It’s there’s a Binga’s Wingas which used to be on Congress. Yeah, it was on Congress. It burned down. I think it was like, I can’t remember what year, but there were big boards in the front. And I was like, I want to paint that. And I got permission from somebody who knew somebody who worked. So I was like, cool. I’m just gonna paint it. And I went out there and painted it with a buddy of mine, like, like a Sunday afternoon. And the owners of Binga’s actually reached out they were like, Who did that? We want to know who did that and I’m like, wasn’t me, but they’re like, it’s amazing. And we want to fill our new space with that type of work. And I was like, What like, what do you, like was not expecting that. And that was how I got into doing it professionally. They reached out. I worked like I was, you know, thrown into a room with architects designers working on like, you know, figuring out the build outs. And here I am this like little graffiti kid that’s just like, but it was once again like the Curiosity not knowing how this works and like the challenge like Okay, cool. Like, I’m here. I’m this is this is interesting. Let me try it out. And it was just I haven’t stopped since

Kevin Oates 8:33
and what year was that?

Ryan Adams 8:34
2009 maybe 2008. I can’t can’t remember.

Kevin Oates 8:37
So you were in your early 20s. And

Ryan Adams 8:39

Kevin Oates 8:40
And so looking at that. So you mentioned just before it said like, you know, you got to quote unquote permission to do this. And it’d be a great blessing experience because it’s launched your career,

Ryan Adams 8:50

Kevin Oates 8:51
You were talking to me a few weeks ago about your process for your geometric work that is now your your signature that you’re, your gems collection.

Ryan Adams 9:00

Kevin Oates 9:02
that was a story as well that was like you really did it kind of against the grain from what was asked but just to get it done and out there to the world. But

Ryan Adams 9:11
yeah, that’s seems to be a common theme I guess throughout my life.

Kevin Oates 9:17
It’s worked out so far though.

Ryan Adams 9:18
Yeah, yeah, knock on wood, it’s worked out so far. Um, but yeah, that was, uh, this whole style came from and I it’s funny, I rarely tell people that story. But I guess just to kind of reiterate, it was a restaurant, wanted to have new signage, they had this big like, sound blocking piece. There was just this massive piece of wood that was just, you know, ugly, didn’t really look good in the area, and they wanted to have signage placed on there. They’re like, Hey, will you paint the name of our restaurant on there? And I was like, sure, but the city was like, No, you can’t have signage that large because you know, smaller town. So what I did was like Okay, let me um I’m gonna figure out a way to have it say the name of your business but they’re gonna have to prove it I ended up that’s how I kind of came up with the the geometric style I masked the letters inside of kind of these shapes and and I just painted it massive there and totally totally got away with it and like it I was like, Oh, you know that? I really like that or like the way that looks. So from there I just kind of kept building upon it. But yeah, that all started because somebody told me I couldn’t.

Kevin Oates 10:36
And it worked.

Ryan Adams 10:37
Yep, yeah.

Kevin Oates 10:38
What about this style this this really that signature to you? Did you have inspiration? Were there other artists that you just or? Or what was that really like, draw from for inspiration?

Ryan Adams 10:51
For sure, for sure. I mean, I have a good friend Matt Moore, who is a graphic designer and like one of the best in the world in my opinion. And he really, I mean, he’s huge, huge influence on me. I mean, he just, Whew, that was the first time I really saw letters broken down into their base basic shapes. So it’s like you can, like, what can you strip away from this letter to still have it recognizable. And I mean, he was like, I saw that I was like, This is brilliant. So I mean, he was a huge influence on me. And then also kind of the Cubist movement to be completely honest. I’m just seeing how in some of those pieces, there was shading and highlights to kind of bring certain pieces forward and back. And when I saw that, I was like, Oh, that’s really cool. That’s another part of recognizing a letter form is that if you’re able to bring a piece of it forward like, okay, like, I unders like you know, say an O like if you make the the inside of the O, kind of seemed like it’s set back. It’s like, oh, gotcha. You don’t even have to draw that. You know, so those sort of things. I think those are kind of the huge influences on the style.

Kevin Oates 12:05
Was this a lot? I mean, I know you kind of did it out of this project at first, but to get to where you are now where you have this honed in to a tee and there it is meticulous, meticulous work. What was that learning curve? Like, because you’re one it’s intense work, but it’s also it’s intricate. Yeah. And it is. It’s labor intensive.

Ryan Adams 12:27
Yeah, for sure. For sure. Sometimes I’m like, midway through something like what did I get myself into? But ya know, it’s it’s definitely been a process and I guess kind of once again, that that curiosity of just figuring out what else can I do with it? How else can I expand upon this kind of language, I guess is one way to kind of consider it. And yeah, it’s a it’s it took a while. first attempts there’s been many many failed attempts, Not necessarily public but mostly in the studio, which is where I try to work out different ideas. And yeah, lots of lots of tinkering, lots of hours of just trying different things, seeing if it works on a small scale, maybe going a little larger on a canvas and then trying it on on a wall.

Kevin Oates 13:20
This so with this product, this is very much your style, but on the other side of your business, you have this this hand lettering company

Ryan Adams 13:27

Kevin Oates 13:28
Which is a big part of your business, especially with you’ve done a lot of restaurants and just a lot of business itself and where it’s, you make the letters or the language reflect the business and so the very personal touch to it. You mentioned with the geometric stuff where you could pull parts of letter how much can you play with a letter to get to so look the same whereas with with hand lettering though, that you have these words, what’s it’s very clear what it is from the start, but how much inspiration are you pulling from? Is it classic work or is it I mean a lot of it is very classical looking

Ryan Adams 14:00
absolutely yeah, so it’s really um they’re very different. So, I guess with with Better Letter which is the hand painted signs company I own with my wife Rachel, Will Sears, and Tessa Green O’Brien, who are also local artists, muralist, just rock stars. Signage is so much different because it’s functional. When you’re painting signage for a business, the hierarchy of information is very important. So if you want it to be clear and legible what the place is, and so the thinking is so much different. You know, obviously, there’s letters and the geometric work, but they’re kind of I don’t know, they are the backbone of the piece. But I guess what it says is secondary to the design, if that makes more In a sense, whereas with signage, what it says is the most important and then design elements kind of play off of that. So yeah, it’s a different kind of thinking with with the signage as opposed to the the mural work.

Kevin Oates 15:19
Have you ever received kickback for your work?

Ryan Adams 15:21
Oh, yeah, definitely.

Kevin Oates 15:23
What What can what kind of kickback from people whether it’s the business owners themselves, or just the general public? Everybody wants to have a voice about something, whether positive or negative,

Ryan Adams 15:33

Kevin Oates 15:33
but when you do get that negative kickback for your art,

Ryan Adams 15:37

Kevin Oates 15:38
what does that what does that look like? And how have you How have you counterbalanced that?

Ryan Adams 15:41
Yeah, that’s, that’s a really good question. Um, so I guess one of the things that I’ve seen, that’s a kind of a massive difference between myself and some of my friends that are artists that don’t have a graffiti background. I started with the most hated Like, no one likes graffiti unless you write graffiti for the most part. So it was kind of I already knew what it felt like to put your heart and soul into something that no one cares about, ya know what I mean? Like, it was just I had already, that was kind of my, my baseline was just trying to perfect this art that wasn’t necessarily appreciated by general public. So when it comes to, I guess, now, if I do something, and general public or somebody online somewhere doesn’t like it, it’s just kind of like, it’s it really doesn’t. I mean, obviously, you know, sometimes words hurt, but I mean, I’ve also always kind of, I mean, I practice this myself, if I don’t believe I could do better than what was on there, then I kind of keep my mouth shut. And I kind of feel the same way when you see it. It’s like all right, you know, like, cool. That’s your opinion, man. You know, like, it’s just, you know, isn’t it kind of slough it off? I guess.

Kevin Oates 17:06
Have you ever had a time though, where it was something with the the client where it’s I mean, they are where you’re doing them like this is exactly not what mean it’s kind of hard to do mock ups and every

Ryan Adams 17:16
Yeah, I try I try to kind of nip that by doing rounds of design. So that that helps to be able to and that’s a very important part and a very important piece of mural jobs is to be able to mock something up, draw it up and show them like this is what I’m talking about. That’s always kind of been a part of what I do. I learned that very early. I think I’m actually thinking of a specific job where it was, you know, brand new as maybe the second time I had done like a mural in a space and I wasn’t used to taking in client direction yet. I hadn’t gotten To that point where you sift through the, you know, sometimes like 50, you know, one liner email and figure out what they’re actually, you know, looking for. I hadn’t got there yet. So I was just like, I guess I just kind of took everything and then tried to incorporate everything and it was just like, it’s not working. But ya, no, since then, I mean, it’s, I try to make sure I’m thorough on the mock ups and kind of work through that process with the clients so that we all know we’re getting into here, you know, so there’s no surprises,

Kevin Oates 18:38

Ryan Adams 18:38

Kevin Oates 18:39
Looking at the projects you have done, so whether it is your artistic style or hand lettering, you know, you’ve worked some really large projects, both the size of the actual space and also the size of the client.

Ryan Adams 18:56

Kevin Oates 18:57
and I’m curious about Samsung, I know you had one that was For down in Boston, how did how did that line up some some guy from Portland, Maine?

Ryan Adams 19:05
It was. It was a really crazy experience. I can I can tell you that much. So actually, we were just talking about my buddy Matt Moore. He was the person that got me in touch with the company that was doing that project. So he he’s worked with this company called Branded Arts. They’re based out of LA, I believe, and they do. I mean, their their roster of artists that they’ve worked with. It’s just, it’s crazy. I mean, it’s Shepard Fairey. It’s JR. It’s everyone. And so Matt had done some work with them in the past, and they reached out and they’re like, Hey, listen, we need something here. Do you know anybody? And I guess Matt threw him a couple friends like, hey, there’s some people I know. And they chose me out of that group. So he put me in touch with that company. And at first I didn’t know it was for Samsung. I just knew there. They’re like, okay, it’s like a pretty big client. And they’re like building the structure on. I think it was like City Hall, downtown Boston and you’re gonna paint it and like a day or two, and I was like, Okay, sounds alright. They’re like, Okay, so here’s the like, you know, packet of all the information. It’s like Samsung’s new phone. I’m like, okay, like, Alright, I guess pressures on you know, but in that case, you just do. I just do what I do. You know, it’s like, if you if you all like what I do, and you chose me For this reason, I’ll just do it. But that was, that was surreal. It was crazy. I’m painting it. I mean, on the front steps to city, I mean, it was just, it was nuts. I can’t even I don’t know, it was one of the most fun. I mean, the energy was great. The response was awesome.

Kevin Oates 20:49
So I usually ask this question towards the end of the podcast, but I think it’s really appropriate now. When you do something of that magnitude, whether it’s size or size of the client, or just the power of that. That piece. And when you step back and you look at it, we’re talking about this mural as well. But what do you stop and take a step back and look at it? What do you reflect on when you what it’s all done? You look at it and say, This is something that I created.

Ryan Adams 21:11
It’s no, oftentimes I think about the journey that got me to this place. To be completely honest. I remember one time I had finished a mural in Kittery is three sides of a two storey building right off at 95. And it was just like, a massive project. And I remember at the end, I sat there I was by myself was like, my last day on the lift. I sat down and I got like, really emotional, like, almost to the point of tears, and I was just like, this ride getting here, like a Whoa, like, how did I get here? Right? And then also just like this journey, it’s, it’s been so strange. I would have never thought that I would have never called this one like it’s a it’s gone. So many, I guess different directions to to land here, I guess that’s what I usually think about. And about taking a nap because normally after those jobs I’m like, ready to pass out.

Kevin Oates 22:10
Well, speaking of taking a nap, you are a parent as well. You are have two kids.

Ryan Adams 22:15
I do I do have two kids

Kevin Oates 22:17
your wife she’s an artist as well and really talented one at that at that. How the heck do you do it? I mean, I know. That’s always asked a lot. But

Ryan Adams 22:26
Sure. Yeah, it’s it’s, it’s a lot. I mean, there’s no like sugarcoating it. It’s it’s absolute insanity. Um, my wife, you know, she’s amazing artist and, you know, I mean, I’d say 75% of my operation. She’s, uh, so she’s, you know, she’s starting her own business. She works full time day job. And she’s the project manager for Better Letter. So our our schedule is insane. Every minute is essentially accounted for and Like I was talking to you about earlier, like we we got into this relationship, we knew we were the ones for each other. We also knew that we wanted a family and that there were personal goals that we wanted to accomplish. We wanted all these things and didn’t want to sacrifice one for the other. So we were just like, Hey, listen, we’re not going to sleep, we’re going to be this next 10 to 15, 20 However, many years are going to be totally nuts. But we’re not going to sacrifice any of those things that we want. We’re just going to make it happen. It’s, I was up so late last night with a baby. So right now I’m like thinking like, I’m so tired, but it’s, I mean, it’s great. You know, it’s, you get used to it to a certain extent you get used to kind of the craziness. I don’t know what to do when things are quiet now. Like if the kids go, and we don’t have plans or both kind of like, you want to go to the studio? It’s Yeah, it’s a it’s wild, but it’s great.

Kevin Oates 23:59
What about You’re, um, I know you’ve talked earlier about your inspiration what from that book and from the cubist movement, I’m curious, like, tie into the family with with your wife and how you guys inspire each other because you’re not doing the same thing. Yeah, but you both are really digging in deep and going to the deep end with your work in the best way possible. So what are you? How does that work as far as inspiring and pushing each other as a couple who are both avid artists?

Ryan Adams 24:26
For sure, I think it helps a lot that we’re nowhere near the same lane. Like we do completely different things. You know, we’re both creative. We both paint. But our styles of work in our goals with our work are so much different, that it helps because it’s it’s not like someone that’s completely in that world giving you the advice. It’s someone who’s kind of a step removed, that’s able to look at your work objectively and be like, hey, like this is missing, you know, and with with her I mean and I’ve said this before all the credit in the world to her for helping me when when we first got together she, she’s like a color genius. It’s really almost scary how good she is with color like I’ve Yeah, it’s it’s, it’s, it’s crazy um, but she really helped me kind of understand color theory and how things work and dialing things back because I came from the graffiti world where it’s like LOUD and CLASHING, you know, just you want it to just completely interrupt your vision. Whereas, you know, some some things that a lot of things I guess that’s not quite appropriate for and she really helped me out a lot with that. And we still I mean, I pretty much bounce everything off her before I send it to people and I know she she bounces a lot off of me too because I know, I guess I help her out more with because my eyes, it’s obviously letter based so it’s a lot about balance and kind of use of negative space and things like that. So I’m able to help her out with those as she needs it but she doesn’t need my help. She’s, she’s, I say help, but that’s just me like just giving unsolicited advice. But yeah, no, it’s it’s awesome. Yeah, we work well together for sure.

Kevin Oates 26:26
Looking ahead, I know, you’ve said that there are projects you have in mind at some point down the line. But what are some your dream projects? Yeah, you’ve you’ve done, I meet so many, so many murals and projects and illustrations, both in businesses or just for for product and beer cans. We’ll get to that in a few minutes too. But what are some dream projects for you as far as like, where you just want to see your work?

Ryan Adams 26:54
Sure. Yeah. Yeah. So um, that’s a good question. I would like to do… And that’s kind of the thing I had a couple projects lined up in larger cities this year. But with COVID, it just like, crushed everything. But I would like to do some larger scale pieces in more populated areas, but in different in different states. One of the things I really enjoy about like, public art, murals and things like that is kind of the dialogue it creates in the community. Because you’re, you’re creating this thing that’s in somebody else’s everyday space and in their habitat and you see different people interacting with the wall and then interacting with each other. And I really, I really dig that and I’d like to kind of, you know, bring it to some other places. I think that’s kind of where one of my major goals is, is to, you know, kind of bring the work, kind of spread it out a little bit. You know, obviously I’ve done projects in other states, but I’d like to, I guess, gonna go further even in other countries if I could. And yeah, that’s kind of one of the next major goals. I think the one that’s at the forefront.

Kevin Oates 28:13
A lot of your work has been in New England.

Ryan Adams 28:15
Yep. Yep.

Kevin Oates 28:16
And especially Maine because you live here and you’re local.

Ryan Adams 28:19

Kevin Oates 28:20
Do you think that what you do here is evergreen where it can translate to anywhere else? Because I mean, I mean, it doesn’t currently have a certain home. There’s nothing about your work that says Maine. Yeah, but because so much of your work has been rooted in this state. You know, do you think that your work could be brought into environments that you know that it may not be the opposite? Maybe Texas and…

Yeah, yeah, I think so. Um, because you know, it’s lettering is universal. That’s kind of one of those things that I mean, when you kind of dive into the whole world of like side painting, hand lettering, like the array of people that are into that, it’s wild. The graffiti world wasn’t like that it’s pretty much one type of person with lettering and things like that it kind of it’s, it’s familiar it kind of. It’s kinda like when I’ve painted portraits before. There’s… people are familiar with an image of someone, people are familiar with letters. So there’s kind of something that I think has like a universal appeal to it. And I think that works. And also, I mean, shapes, shapes are cool. Everyone knows about shapes. So I think kind of those those things are what would allow it to be successful in more places outside of just locally.

Let’s talk about beer.

Ryan Adams 29:47
Yeah. All right.

Kevin Oates 29:49
So this has been a new new movement, probably the last especially for four or five years.

Ryan Adams 29:53

Kevin Oates 29:54
As breweries are moving to cans, and can production. And not only that, but having to be works of art and not just slap a label on it had your logo on it and tell what type of a beer and that’s it. But you’ve had a great opportunity to now do a lot of can art.

Ryan Adams 30:11

Kevin Oates 30:12
And continuing to.

Ryan Adams 30:13
Yeah, absolutely.

Kevin Oates 30:15
What was the first experience like that for you as far as what was the brewery that first approached you? And I know you could… you threw your, your geometric style into that. For a lot of these.

Ryan Adams 30:25
Oh, yeah. Yeah. So um, that was so Novara Res is you know, a beer bar here that just kind of top top notch in my opinion, my best friend is one of the owners. So I have been spray painting stuff on their deck for events and just for them for years. That kind of got me in that whole beer scene. And I mean, also, my wife and I are pretty social people. We like beer and like going out to the breweries. So my first experience with my art on a canvas through Good Fire Brewing. I did their sign and did a mural on the side of their building. And their designer had a photo of the mural and was like, hey, I want to put this on a can. And I was like, fine, cool. And then I saw it on there. I was like, Whoa, I like it. And there is something really great about I don’t know, having having your stuff on a beer can and you know that it’s like being distributed to wherever and people are seeing it holding it. Something really cool about that, that I’d never really thought of before. And then I was connected with Short Throw Brewing, owned by a Brandon Tolbert. Great Brewer down in Virginia. And so we had some, like mutual friends kind of connect us. And they were just starting they were just starting up and it was kind of, I mean, I guess he’s pretty big deal on that on that scene. So it’s like, you know, we talked and we’re just, uh, he was an old hip hop DJ. So we were just like rap nerds. And we just got on the phone the first time and I think we’re on the phone for like an hour, hour and a half. And we just clicked. And so from there, he was like, hey, I want you to design all the labels. I was like, sounds good, dude. Like, I’ll give it a shot. It’s, it’s been awesome so far. I mean, Brandon’s the man. The beers delicious. It’s so good, like, designing and working so hard on something that is actually like a really rad product because like, all the beers I’ve tried have been great. And yeah, that’s that’s kind of how I got there. So I’m doing all the design for all the labels there. We started from scratch. That was my first experience with kind of verbiage on labels and getting those approved by the powers that be and just, you know, it’s brand new experience, and it’s been awesome. It’s been really fun.

Kevin Oates 32:56
Are you trying to challenge yourself more because you do have your signature style, but are you trying to one up yourself each time?

Ryan Adams 33:02
100% that’s like, that’s one of the most I think it helps drive me but like, it also can kind of drive me nuts a little bit because I’m in constant competition with myself and I look at something I’m like, that was cool. I liked that one. But I can do better. And then and then it just kind of keeps going. So obviously, when you’re working on something like that, you want to have kind of that continuity in the images because you want the brand to be recognized. So I don’t want to go too far left. But at the same time, kind of having those parameters I guess, like, help me kind of just stay contained in a certain mindset, but also how can I deviate but still be in line here? I don’t know. It’s, it’s fun. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s beer. Great. Yeah.

Kevin Oates 33:52
We a few days ago, we were talking about collective I think collective brewing or whatever that brewery is, but where it’s constantly rotating can art.

Ryan Adams 34:00

Kevin Oates 34:00
And like it’s, do you see this growing? And so I mean already has massively grown both nationally and internationally. But do you think it’ll keep evolving and keep becoming the new the new norm?

Ryan Adams 34:12
Absolutely. I mean, you see it I mean, you see, Pabst Blue Ribbon did a campaign where they had a bunch of artists design their cans. I think that there’s something that feels a little more special when you have a can that was worked. It’s a it’s kind of a piece of art within itself. And I’ve seen like, people collect I saw one like this, this lady online had taken off the labels from Short Throw, and is like slapping them on the wall and I’m like, Whoa, that’s like a little mini posters for it. But um, yeah, no, I absolutely think that this is a this is a thing. And really awesome because it gives another lane for designers and illustrators and creatives. Like, you can be a head designer for a beer label now and go nuts with your work. If the Company allows you to write so yeah, I think it’s great.

Kevin Oates 35:04
We’ve we focus a lot on the things that have gone, right. We a little bit on like, you know, with things with clients. But what as far as you’re kind of self employed, more or less.

Ryan Adams 35:16

Kevin Oates 35:17
And yeah, what what are your struggles? I mean, aside from sanity from your kids, but yeah, as far as the business side or just a, you were saying when you started just understanding client relations with mockups?

Ryan Adams 35:29
Well, there was a pretty, pretty steep learning learning curve and thrown right into it. You know, in the beginning, there’s been so much learning and so just learning from experience, just from Little things to Little things like accounting for a certain amount of revisions in the design process, because, you know, I, there’s been times where you do, or at least prior to figuring that out, you’re working on something, somebody has you doing 10, 15 revisions, and you’re not getting paid any more for your time and you’re falling behind on other things. And so there’s things like that, that you learn. But I guess now kind of the struggles are, I think just being self employed on any level, you really have to be a team of 20 people, like by yourself. And now that marketing is all digital, it’s all very fast paced, and you have to stay on top of these things like it’s absolutely essential for your success. That alone is could be someone’s job, and you have to fulfill that one. And then there’s the accounting side where it’s like, you better not mess that up because serious consequences. So you really have to pay attention to that you also have to be improving and working on your art or your product and like, there’s just so many, I guess roles that need to be filled by just me or me with the help of Rachel my wife, but that’s really one of the struggles now trying to focus on more than just the art and the product. All of the other things that come along with maintaining and growing a successful business. That’s those are the parts that are tough right now.

Kevin Oates 37:24

Ryan Adams 37:25
Oh, yeah.

Kevin Oates 37:26
Okay, so you were saying again, the way music plays you did this piece of artwork for Run the Jewels. And with Brandon from the brewery, they were that you found this connection through music and clearly it seems that it’s it’s as much as you love art and creating, music is just as much up there.

Ryan Adams 37:43

Kevin Oates 37:43
Give us a little bit as far as your your relationship with music. And then how does that play into your? Your art?

Ryan Adams 37:52
Oh, for sure. Yeah. Um, so I’ve been a hip hop rap nerd since I was a child and I don’t think it’s ever going anywhere. So I am a music plays a very, very important part of my day, every day, every single day. And with the art, it’s it’s weird how they play off each other. It’s very strange. There’s a lot of the pieces since they’re based around lettering. I’ll hear something like in a rap song and it’s like, oh man, that’s perfect. You know, like they just, it’s like, just like, Okay, cool. So sometimes I’ll reference certain songs in pieces. Other times it’s more like the idea what they’re trying to get across. And then also, with the the mural painting, I listen to music the whole time I’m working because, I mean, why not? It’s great. To have that opportunity to do that. I’m definitely gonna do it. It’s strange, because I will listen to certain records or certain albums by people throughout an entire mural project and I’ll It’ll, I don’t know why I do this, but like it, it’ll basically be on repeat. And while I’m doing, and it’s really weird. I don’t know why I do that. But I think it’s kind of a comfort thing. You know, it’s like, it’s very strange, but I’ll hear the song later, or like a song from the album later and it’ll take me back to that moment on the mural. So there’s certain albums that are like connected to walls like it’s really weird. I know. It’s like,

Kevin Oates 39:26
Do you have some examples that you remember off the top of your head?

Ryan Adams 39:28
Yeah, well, so this one here, I was listening to the new Kaytranada album. That was on repeat. And then let’s see. I did one up north in Bridgeton, Maine and it was like the top of a gas station so I was up high on a lift. And you know, buildings aren’t really that tall. So you could just view as amazing and that was when Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book album came out. That was that wall and then Artists and Craftsman. I did that one. That’s when Tyler the Creator’s Flower Boy came out right and it was like when I hear songs from those those albums and like oh, yeah, cool. It’s really yeah, I don’t know why that happens but just how it goes.

Kevin Oates 40:08
What are the standbys for you? I know you said your rap nerd so it goes deep. But

Ryan Adams 40:15

Kevin Oates 40:15
as far as the artists that have your go to albums or go to artists, no matter what every time

Ryan Adams 40:20
Yep! um, well, let’s think a lot of Madlib. Madlib because you can choose either to have the rapping over it, or it can be beats and then depends on who’s next. Um, and also, I mean, it’s not necessarily rap, but Flying Lotus. He has an album called until the quiet comes that came out probably in like 2012 I think and it’s just beautiful. To me, it’s just kind of has this relaxing kind of ambient, but then, you know, hip hop, beat’ll drop in and it’s just like, when you’re working. It’s like, okay, cool, nice and chill, but then Alright, let’s go you know, and Run the Jewels every single album that’s, that’s for that last hour. get through it.

Kevin Oates 41:06
The last question we asked our guests is more towards those who want to, for those who want to break the mold or like go against the grain or just stick to their guns about what they really are passionate about. But I’d love to tailor this towards creatives, especially because they are already in that lane. As an artist, what would you What would you say someone who’s whether they’re 17 or 45, and have passion about their art and what they’re creating, but haven’t broken that mold yet? And they know what they’re going to do is go against the grain. What would you say to them?

Ryan Adams 41:40

Kevin Oates 41:40
as someone who’s who’s done that and still do’n it.

Ryan Adams 41:44
Thanks. Oh, let me take a second here to think about that. I think there’s a few pieces of advice I would probably give first, would be aim to outwork everyone. Like, in my head, you know, I’m very competitive with myself. And I think one of the things that is helpful in most areas of my life is just this kind of relentless work ethic to just make it happen. And I guess yeah, that would be, I guess, talking this out, I kind of realized it, I’d say just make it happen. Like, no excuses, do it. You know, and there’s always gonna be something there’s never gonna be the most opportune time to do… nothing, stars aren’t gonna align and and you’re gonna wake up one morning and, you know, birds gonna take the sheets off you and tell you like today’s the day to go independent. That’s never gonna be the case. There’s always going to be something that’s scary and that’s in your head might, I guess, hold you back from wanting to chase those things. You just gotta jump. Just gotta go. You know, like you just and I mean, I you know, I think I was telling you about, I just left my full time day job a couple months ago, but this whole time, I mean, you know, there’s other things in life that I wanted so I was working a very corporate day job and then outside of that every hour afterwards and sometimes even before was dedicated to making this next step and making this happen. So yeah, you just got to go I you know, I talked to some people like oh, you know, it’s not even work for you like this is and I’m just like, you don’t know. It couldn’t you couldn’t be more wrong, you know, like, it’s so much work. And if you want it, that’s just what you’re gonna do. And yeah, make it happen. Go, you know, hit the gas.

Kevin Oates 43:43
to learn more about Ryan and his projects, go to ryanwritesonthings.com. You can also follow him on social media at the same handle, Ryan writes on things. Plus, you can follow his business Better Letter Hand Painted signs at, you guessed it, betterletterhandpaintedsigns.com, Renegades and Mavericks is production of Dirigo Collective. To find more bonus footage plus other episodes from this podcast, visit renegadesandmavericks.com. To learn more about Dirigo Collective, visit DirigoCollective.com or follow us on social media. Also, we want to add that since this was taped, Ryan, along with two other artists created a large scale mural in downtown Portland in remembrance of the death of George Floyd. You can see those photos and more information about this at our website at renegadesmavericks.com Thank you Ryan.

Benn Marine 44:37
Up next on renegades and Mavericks.

Corinne Watson 44:40
I don’t like it when somebody tells me I can’t do something so it makes me try even harder to get get it done.

Ryan’s George Floyd Mural in Portland, Maine


Ryan’s Work in our Yarmouth Office